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Put yourself in their shoes

Uproar over increased tuition

You’re an international student returning to SAIT for your second year of studies. You go to the registrar’s office to pay your tuition, only to find out that the price of your course has risen nearly 40 per cent. What do you do?

For Jennifer Drew, it was an easy answer. You speak up.

Drew, a second-year professional cooking student at SAIT, said she was hit with a $10,410 increase to her tuition for the year. As most would be in this situation, she was furious to find out her program’s cost had skyrocketed.

After consulting with the international student’s centre and the registrar’s office on the reasoning behind the increase as well as options for paying it, and after finding out that answers to these questions were few and far between, Drew decided to go public with her story and contacted CBC.

“As a returning student, you’re in a program, you’ve made a commitment,” said Drew. “A month and a half before you go into your second— and final— year, you’re all of a sudden told that it is going to cost you twice as much, and that’s a big deal.”

While going to the press did put the issue in the public spotlight, it has had little to no effect on SAIT’s actions.

The key issue here can be summed up in one word: communication.

SAIT has done a poor job of communicating to students their reasoning for increasing international students’ tuitions.

SAIT released an annual fiscal report, of which the most recent iteration available is for 2014-15. While the report does go into detail about its revenue and expenses, it doesn’t shed any light on how international students tuitions are spent.

It does put some things into perspective though. SAIT receives most of its funding from grants provided by the Alberta Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education (IAE). For the 2014-15 year, this amounted to $179 million, more than two thirds of SAIT’s revenue. In contrast, revenue through tuition and related fees was just $56 million.

While the grant money provided by IAE might indirectly go towards international students, through activities like program renewal and instructor development, the money is not to be spent directly on them.

A press release by SAIT on the subject states, “As a publicly funded institution, SAIT is responsible to ensure there is no burden to the taxpayers of Alberta to deliver programs to international students.”

SAIT’s surplus for the school year was around $16 million. Though not directly calculable based on information provided, the increase to international students’ tuitions should only account for a few million.

With domestic tuition being capped for two years, and the surplus margin being fairly slim, it is possible to see that SAIT might very well have reason to raise prices.

Once again, it comes down to communication.

While the school did inform international students in July that there would be an increase in tuition prices, this information came in the form of one sentence sent in a general email welcoming students back for a new year. The letter did not say how much the increases would be. For that information, students had to go to, or contact, the registrar’s office.

No detailed information has been given as to what the money is being spent on, other than to say it is being used to “recover the costs of delivering those programs to international students.”

There is precedent for schools informing students of why they are increasing tuitions and laying out exactly what the money will be used for.

The University of British Columbia has increased their international students’ tuitions as well. The difference is they have worked to include the students in the process, through laying out their proposal, showing where the money is going and even consulting with the general student body.

SAIT, deciding not to include the students in the process, instead loosely informed them of the increase two months before classes started.

It’s easy to see why students like Drew would be infuriated by the situation. Given few options for managing the increase, very little time to pay it, and almost no information on why they are being charged so much, international students have been left feeling uncared for by the institution they left their homes to attend.

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